Anthony Herman Focker (1890–1939)

Anthony Fokker was one of the principal pioneers in Europe of the manufacture of aircraft. He was one of the first to make extensive use of metal in aircraft construction, and personally tested all his designs.

He was born, the son of a coffee planter, at Kediri in East Java, but his family settled in Haarlem in 1894. His academic career was undistinguished, but having gone to Wiesbaden in 1910 to gain experience of mechanical engineering, he became interested in flying. He built a series of small monoplanes, each called ‘de Spin’ (the spider), and demonstrated the third by flying it round the tower of Sint-Bavokerk, Haarlem, on 31 August 1911. He was attracted by the prospects of building and selling aircraft in Germany, and in 1912 moved to Johannisthal near Berlin, where he established a company called Fokker Aeroplanbau, which soon re-located to Schwerin in Mecklenburg, where, as Fokker Werke GmbH he had 55 employees.

From the outbreak of the First World War the company was taken over by the German government, and produced about 3,000 planes for the country’s armed forces during the course of the conflict. The company’s first products were reconnaissance aircraft that could be transported on motor trucks, but Fokker devised a means of synchronising a forward-firing machine gun with the propeller of the single engine of a fighter plane. His D-VIII, delivered from April 1918, was one of the most effective aircraft to be employed in the war. The destruction of remaining examples was specifically ordered in the Treaty of Versailles.

Fokker returned to the Netherlands after the Armistice, and, having foreseen the restrictions that would be placed on aircraft production by the peace settlement, carried many crated planes and spare parts over the border in 300 railway wagons. He formed a new company, MV Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabrik, since the name ‘Fokker’ was unpopular in England and France. From 1919 he built one of the first purpose-designed passenger planes, the F-2, which could carry four passenger in a cabin at 160 kph. KLM, the Dutch airline founded in 1919 by Albert Plesman, bought his aircraft, and he established branch factories in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark and Poland.

In 1922 he went to the United States, where he established the Atlantic Aircraft Co in 1924, and in due course became an American citizen. A Fokker T-2 made the first non-stop transcontinental flight between New York and San Diego in 1922.He designed and built the Fokker Trimotor passenger aircraft, that was also manufactured under license in seven other countries, and was employed by Pan-American Airlines, and by Admiral Richard Byrd for flights over the poles, and for one of the first transatlantic flights from New York to Paris in July 1927.

In 1931 Fokker returned to the Netherlands where he built an enlarged version of the Trimotor that could carry 32 passengers, but was soon made redundant by the all-metal DC series produced by the Douglas Corporation in the United States from 1933. During the 1930s Fokker supplied KLM and other European airlines with the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 Dakota manufactured under license.

After the Second World War the Fokker company was successful with the S-14 military jet trainer, and with two airliners designed for secondary routes, the turbo-prop F-27 Friendship and the jet F-28 Fellowship, but it proved too small to survive in the competitive world of the late 20th century, and after being taken over by the German company DASA, production ceased in 1996.